UK family immigration rules are not discriminatory or unlawful and will not be quashed, the High Court has ruled.
But they are “unjustified” and “onerous”, a judge said, urging the government to consider adjusting them.
Three claimants had challenged the new rules which set earnings thresholds for people wanting to sponsor the visas of their non-European spouses.
The Home Office introduced the rules in July 2012 to ease the financial burden of migration on the state.
Under the new family migration policy only British citizens, or those with refugee status, who earn at least £18,600 a year can sponsor their non-European spouse’s visa.
This rises to £22,400 for families with a child, and a further £2,400 for each extra child.
The new policy was challenged on the basis that the rules were discriminatory and interfered with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, the right to a private and family life.
The court concluded that the rules were not unlawful on the basis of discrimination, or due to a conflict with the statutory duty to regard the best interests of children while making visa decisions.
However, it did find that the earnings threshold was disproportionate if combined with one of the four other requirements in the rules – for example, an inability to supplement a shortfall in income with savings, unless the savings were over £16,000.
Mr Justice Blake, sitting in London, said that while there might be sound reasons for some of the individual requirements “taken in isolation”, he had concluded that the combination of more than one of the five requirements of the rules was “so onerous in effect as to be an unjustified and disproportionate interference with a genuine spousal relationship”.
Home Secretary Theresa May has been given permission to appeal.
And it is now for Mrs May to decide whether any amendments should be made to the rules to satisfy the requirements of proportionality.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our family changes were brought in to make sure that spouses coming to live in the UK would not become reliant on the taxpayer for financial support and would be able to integrate effectively. We’re pleased that this judgment supports the basis of our approach.
“We are looking closely at the judgment and its likely impact on the minimum income threshold before we decide how to respond.
“In the meantime, where an applicant does not meet the minimum income threshold and there is no other reason to refuse it, the application will be put on hold.”
A group of MPs and Lords, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, is calling for an independent review of the minimum income requirement.
In a review published last month, it looked at more than 175 cases from families affected by the rules.
Baroness Hamwee, chairwoman of the review and Liberal Democrat home affairs lead in the House of Lords, said the parliamentary group had been “struck by the evidence showing just how many British people have been kept apart from partners, children and elderly relatives”.
“These rules are causing anguish for families and, counter to their original objectives, may actually be costing the public purse,” she said.
They said thousands of Britons had been unable to bring non-EU spouses to the UK since the minimum earnings requirements were introduced.
BBC © 2013